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I'm off to London in a minute...well, 45 to be exact. Right now I'm at Schiphol, my favourite airport in the world, mainly because it's so well-organised. The amenities may be sparse, but at least they're very well signposted.

I haven't made any hard and fast plans, but then I'm only staying on till day after tomorrow. I may take in a show or a play tonight (Damien Lewis, Keira Knightley and Tara Fitzgerald star at the Comedy Theatre), or I may just stay in and read a book. Tomorrow though, is the big event: Depeche Mode at the O2! I'm meeting [ profile] bogwitch for that, and to say I'm looking forward to it, is an understatement.

It's not been a good year for gigs for me, this 2009 that's drawing to a close. With me having started in a new job in the closing weeks of the previous year, for the first six months of it I didn't have many holidays accrued; and then of course, the boys didn't make it over here, and David...well, his dates were posted too late in the day for me to arrange for time off. Hopefully next year will offer me more and better opportunities.

Anyway, I'd better go and get the security check over and done with. See yous!
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So, the Friday before last I slept in, got up, went into town, bought shoes, and met up with [ profile] anonypooh in time for a late lunch (of loaded chips and chilli) in Leicester Sq. Then we went off to buy her a new pair of jeans in Miss Sixty, stopping to take in a charming French street artist's performance in Covent Garden on the way. Back to my hotel to freshen up and drop off/collect our things, and out again to meet up with [ profile] freakspawn at Euston, and off to the pub for drinks and a chat.

Before long it was time to make our way into Camden, where the venue was a tiny basement in a pub called The Constitution. The kitchen had closed by the time we got there, so after greeting [ profile] quietychaotic and [ profile] deborahw37 who were already there enjoying a fag in the garden, we went back out again in search of some takeaway grub, which the landlord kindly permitted us to bring back in once we'd found it (hmmm, yummy kebab for me, and chips for my companions). It got a bit chilly and so we went in. By this time, our numbers had swelled to an 11, as [ profile] justanotherkj, [ profile] mezzerb, [ profile] love_by_137 and [ profile] miss_fairfax and two of her flatmates had also arrived on the scene. Shortly afterwards, the musicians arrived as well, and when DB came over for a pre-gig chat, I asked him if he'd take requests. "Sure, what would you like to hear?" he said, and I indicated that KJ had one. She'd been much impressed with his cover of DCfC's I Will Follow You Into The Dark and requested that. David wasn't sure Jordan could play it and asked if we were going to be at his Monday night gig. I hated having to admit I wouldn't, and he said he'd see what could be done. And so they played it later that evening, to the delight of all assembled.

As I said, the venue was tiny, and we were easily the biggest group of fans of any one artist there. Originally, there had been 4 bands on the bill, but the first one up had had to cancel and so it was DB and Jordan who started the evening off. They played a really good set of 7 or 8 songs, and then it was all over...for me, at least, and I suddenly felt so tired that instead of going on an intended pub crawl with Jules & Lorna (in the end, they went to a noodle bar instead), I went back to the hotel and straight to bed.

The next morning, after sorting out my Sunday morning stupid o'clock travel arrangements, I went over to Muswell Hill where Jules and Lorna had stayed the night. We had a (second) breakfast at a greasy spoon and then spent the entire day outside, exploring Highgate Wood, Highgate Village and Highgate Cemetery, where we discovered the tombs of Karl Marx and George Elliott quite by accident (we were too tight to buy a map or go on a guided tour). Never having been to that part of London before, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how leafy and airy it is, and the views are just amazing. If ever in a future life I come back as a Londoner, I want to live in Muswell Hill. Which probably means I want to make sure I come back loaded as well, as a quick glance in an estate agent's window taught me that property prices are well above my present life's earnings...

I left London on the 6.02am train to Bedford, and got home around noon. Phooey!
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The problem with holidays is, they tend to be over too quickly. Especially when you've only booked a week off and on your last day in the office, your manager approaches you with an offer that on the face of it seems enticing, but that you won't have a chance to investigate, sort out the pros and cons, or all the legal and financial ramifications; let alone check out the job market, because you're supposed to be doing something else somewhere else. Now I'm going to have to go back into work tomorrow, and will have even less of a chance to reach an informed decision.

David's Thursday night show had been cancelled, but lucky for me, something called the City Showcase meant he had a gig that afternoon in the Hugo Boss store in Carnaby St instead. I spent the morning window shopping for shoes (what else?) in Oxford St, checked into my hotel around 1pm; then after receiving a text from Jules that told me she was on her way to the venue, made it there in time to witness the arrival of DB and Jordan. They'd played in Paris the night before and Jordan said the tour so far had been exhausting. Still, he looked perky enough. David had been having some problems with his voice earlier in the week, but thought it was back up to 40%, and besides, he said, what he'd lost in range he'd gained in raspiness, and he said it as if it were swings and roundabouts. Jules turned up soon after, and we went for a spot of lunch while the band set up. The City Showcase involved several artists performing in various shops up and down the Carnaby St area, but I can't tell if this is a regular thing or not. Funnily enough, the presence of a singer in the store seemed to act as a deterrant to people to cross the threshold and browse for clothes or make a purchase, so as an experiment it may not have been entirely successful from the point of view of the shopkeepers.

instore concert )

In the end, they played to about 20 people, none of whom purchased any suits, but many did buy DB's cds, including myself as he and Jordan had recorded an EP just before coming out on this tour. When he asked if there were any requests, I asked for Boxes, which seemed to please him; he believes it's one of his more accomplished songs, and yet it doesn't make the set list, or gets requested, all that often. Which I think is a shame as it's one of my favourite songs from his After The Wrecking Ships-album. Which is still the last studio album...when oh when will Strange Light finally be released?

After the gig, Jules, her friend KJ and I headed over to the Tate Modern to see the gigantic murals on display there, and I finally had that 99 with flake I'd been promising myself for years, though at £2 I did think it was a bit pricey. Then KJ went off to blag her way into a TV studio audience, while Jules and I had fish and chips and mushy peas on board the Queen Mary. Here I was introduced to my new favourite tipple: Brothers' Strawberry & Pear Cider. It smells revoltingly sweet, tastes really sweet to begin with too, but drinks like lemonade once you've had a sip or two. [ profile] bogwitch, dare I ask: have you tried it yet, or is it too much of a party drink for your choice?

And then I went to the theatre to see Avenue Q, which came highly recommended by Jules, and it really was a hoot from start to finish. If any of you haven't seen it, which I don't suppose is the case as you're all much more clued up about these things than I, it's like Sesame Street for grown-ups. The jokes are corny, the songs are catchy, and the story (if there is one) very simple and a little bit preachy, and overall, it makes for a fantastic night out.

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Twelfth Night, or Jan. 6th. I had planned on having a little lie-in, but check-out time was 10:30am -- and for some reason, neither [ profile] anonypooh nor I managed to sleep for very long. In fact, we were up at the crack of dawn. We parted company for a few hours after breakfast, during which I took myself off to Camden market, but met up again at noon at Mansion House to go wassailing.

It's an annual event held at Bankside, and it's free. Jules had found it on her little brick that morning, and it seemed like it might be fun, so we'd decided to go check it out.

We got there early, and found there was hardly anyone there. So we took ourselves off to the nearest Starbucks for hot beverages and a bite to eat (the weather was beautiful but there was a cold wind blowing from the river), and when we got back, the place was packed. Still, we took up positions in the crowd, and watched events unfurl.

First, the Holly Man arrived by boat, and came to land by the Millennium Bridge. I took a picture, but I was too far away from the scene and it didn't come out very well.

After that, I found a better spot from which to view the proceedings.

Wæs hæl! )

Then cakes were thrown into the audience (yum), and whoever found a bean or a pea in theirs was crowned King or Queen for the day (the King was a little girl). Together with the mummers, they led us in procession through Southwark to the George Inn, where the Holly Man wassailed the pub,


another collection was held, and dancing and the drinking of alcoholic beverages was encouraged. Jules and I made our escape at that time, and hied ourselves off to another, quieter pub in Leicester Square for a farewell drink...then she went home to Hampshire, and I to Amsterdam.

Just before I went into the departure lounge, I was stopped and asked a few questions by a kind old lady 'on behalf of the government'. Where did I come from, where had I been, how long had I stayed, how much had I spent, and what had made me come over in the first place? She was most interested to hear I'd come over especially to see Lee Mead, and we had quite a nice chat about him. ;-)
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I got back from my trip late last night, and had to get up early to go to work (the less said about that, the better). Consequently, I'm pooped...but at least I've had a terrific time in London this weekend.

I got into Luton to find things had all changed on the railways, and I could now get into London quicker and cheaper from there than before, which put me in a very good mood. I spent an hour or so window-shopping in Oxford St, received a promotional goodie bag from a newly opened Scandinavian glassware shop in Regent St that contained -among other things- a very nicely bound notebook, and met up with [ profile] anonypooh outside the B&B in King's Cross where she'd booked us a cosy little or in estate agent's speak bijou room and en-suite at a mere £30 a night -- not bad for Central London, I'm sure you'll agree! We dropped off our stuff and had a cuppa; then went over to [ profile] miss_fairfax's flat in St. John's Wood for more tea and pre-performance squee. We went back into town towards the end of the afternoon, to meet [ profile] tori_x for an early supper at The Chinese Experience in Shaftesbury Avenue. Both the Mongolian Crispy Lamb and the Stir Fried Prawns with Cashew Nuts that I had were to die for; and the prices were altogether reasonable.

And then it was time to go and see Lee Mead in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Adelphi. The guy at the merch kiosk was really sweet and did Julia a deal: he swapped the boring £3 poster she'd resigned herself to buying for the glossy Lee-in-swirly-coat one that normally only comes included in the £10 programme & brochure package.

The theatre was completely sold out. We were in stalles, at the very back, but with a good view of the stage nonetheless. Which was tiny, but then, the Adelphi isn't the biggest of venues. And when Lee made his entrance, everybody sat up...which unfortunately took away from my view a little. But as I was sitting in an aisle seat, all I had to do was lean out a bit more. I'm not sure how the others fared.

It has been reported in the media that Lee is quite shy in real life, and perhaps this accounts for his tendency to look at the floor for long moments in the performance. But he also has a presence, an enthusiasm, a gusto when he's on stage singing, he has a really good voice, and as [ profile] miss_fairfax remarked, he has really good legs, too; so it's easy to forgive him this little quirk.

I enjoyed the show tremendously. Lee and the rest of the cast were on fine form, and I loved the stage setting, the costumes (esp. that of Potiphar's evil wife) and the props. It all ended much too soon, but the standing ovation they received at the end was well-deserved.

We went round the back to the stage door, surprised at the fact that we were practically the only ones, only to be told by theatre staff that Lee would come out for a signing at the front. We got back there and joined the crowd at the back. Again someone came out to tell us Lee would be 5 minutes, and that in addition to signing autographs for those who had thought to bring items for his signature, he would also hand out a stack of signed photos for those that hadn't. In the end, I managed to get hold of one, but someone else who obviously wanted it more yanked it out of my hand. A group of five young American tourists looked on in amazement.

the scrum )

After he'd gone back inside, the crowd dispersed pretty rapidly, while we went back to hang around the stage door, where we spotted various cast members leaving. Some were even stopped to sign autographs by a few of the die-hard fans that had assembled there. Eventually, one of the security staff came out to tell us that if Lee hadn't left already, and he might have done as the place apparently has 19 exits, he would probably stay till very late; but if a signed photo was what we were after, he could go and get us some. And he did.

Which left us free to go and have cake in Leicester Square's Rendezvous. ;-)

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The next morning, Arina came to pick us up and drive us to the airport -- we made good time and got there around noon. The place was swamped with security and police armed with some serious looking guns. All to do with Bush's visit, although I wasn't aware that he'd chosen to land at Luton ;-)...We checked in and then spent the next 40 minutes duty free shopping. Apart from the usual cosmetics and perfumes, I picked up a floppy hat from Accessorize and a book detailing the medical history/pathology of the British kings and queens from Harold Godwinsson to George VI...nice and morbid! Of course, I already knew that Edward II died from the insertion of a red-hot poker up his bum, but I hadn't really thought about the method required to get that poker there, and what it did to his rectum.

At Schiphol, Anneke and I went our separate ways. The cats were beside themselves with joy when I crossed my own threshold again, and I soon felt right at home.

Went back to work the next day, and from that moment on it was the same old, same old...Holland beat Scotland 6-0 in the play-offs, which means football mania will hit again next summer, Wednesday's anti-Bush rally brought a record 70,000 protesters to London on a weekday, and two more bombs exploded in Istanbul. Saturday's bombings had left us reeling when we were informed that they had claimed the life of a friend of one of Bobby's business partners' sister; this just made everything worse. I spent some time in Istanbul back in 1986; I can't imagine what devastation the bombings have created.

On a cheerier note, if there's one film you're going to see this Christmas, make it Love Actually. I went to see it yesterday and I have never laughed so loud. It's the ultimate feel good-movie this year, and the cast is awesome. When I woke up this morning, I was still smiling...
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Sunday came, and with it the real reason for my visit: Anneke's exhibition in Alan Baxter Associates opened.

My friend Anneke is an installation artist. She can make the most wondrous things. And every time she has an exhibition of her work anywhere, I go -- usually to help set things up as much as to offer support.

This time, the work she was exhibiting was photographs and drawings rather than installations, and I was looking forward to seeing these on their own, not being used as part of her usual art. Having dated a photographer once, and being no mean photographer myself, I take a particular interest in photography, and I knew Anneke had a good eye and was confident that I would be able to appreciate and understand the pictures she'd selected to show us.

She wasn't exhibiting on her own (I don't think she ever does, to be honest), but was sharing the gallery space with her friend Edith, who is an 'earth artist'. Basically, that means she works with all kinds of mud; travelling around the world, she collects silts from all over, and fashions it into small vessels, female torsos, and uses it to paint with.

Anneke's pictures and drawings dealt with mirrors, mirror images, and distortions, and sparked a lot of interest from various quarters, which had her reeling a bit. It never ceases to amaze me how, contrary to most artists I know, she never seems convinced that what she does is truly amazing or inspired. She never bothers with thinking up elaborate explanations for her art, never tries to imbue it with a certain social relevance, never bullshits you like that, and I find that utterly refreshing.

We got to the gallery a little early and the gates were still closed, so we went over the road to Starbucks for a cup of tea and, for me, a chocolate mint surprise.
When Edith drove up, bringing the keys and her own personal assistant Odette and a dreadlocked young man whose name I never caught, we dumped our stuff (drinks, nibblies, cakes etc) in the little kitchen in the back, and had a quick look round the displays.

The picture that had fallen and had had to be replaced, now had to be hung, so for the next hour or so Anneke and I busied ourselves with the hanging and re-arranging of the photographs (24x36 inches) while Edith and her gang made everything in order on their side. In the course of which, I found that another of the pictures had been severely damaged, having been chipped and scratched in one corner. Having been mounted on fomex, and not framed, these objects are quite vulnerable, and the slightest mishap could damage them. There was nothing could be done about this now, though.

People started arriving, and for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, I was rushed off my feet making smalltalk with interested parties, making them feel at ease, making them tea, offering them home-baked gingerbread, and forever doing the washing up at the sink. Towards the end of the show, Anneke remarked that I would make a fantastic personal assistant to any artist, if I could ever be persuaded to a change of career. I had such patience! Poor deluded Anneke! I'm only patient because I care about her, and her art.

I had dressed up in plain unadorned black for two reasons: so as not to detract from the surrounding art too much, and to show off my beautiful new boots (the size 7 ones) to best advantage. To my mind, these to motivations aren't mutually exclusive, even if they may seem so written down.
It worked: most of the public complimented me on my choice of boots, and one woman even asked whether they had been done by one of the artists, too!

After the last guest had left, and we had cleared everything away and packed our stuff, we locked the gates again and said goodbye to Edith, Odette and the handyman; and then drove to Golders Green where Anneke's daughter was working late as a fitness instructor. We left the car parked outside her place of work, and while Anneke dropped off the keys for her, Bobby drove up to collect us. Totally pooped, Anneke and I agreed we didn't feel like going out for a meal, so instead we got shoarmas from a take-away and went straight home.

The rest of the evening were spent trying to discover some sort of storyline in the BBC's new costume drama, Charles II. After watching the first two episodes, we declared ourselves quite disappointed...although I must admit, Rufus Sewell's quite nice-looking in it.
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Over the last couple of days, we'd heard and read a lot about Roger Michell's new film The Mother (screenplay by Hanif Kureishi), which intrigued us greatly, and so we decided to see for ourselves whether it was worth all the raving reviews in the media that Saturday night.

But first, I still had two more exhibitions I wanted to see, and I was lucky in that they were in two adjoining (or almost) museums, one my absolute favourite: the V&A. It's like the British Museum in that there's always something worth looking at and however many times you visit, you can never get enough of wandering through its vast expanse; but this time I specifically wanted to take in the Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547-exhibition. I got there early, and could view the objects at my leisure without having to look over anyone else's shoulder, which was quite a departure from the norm for me.

After the exhibition I just wandered through the rest of the museum, looking in on the Non-European Cultures and Ancient Near Eastern collections, and had lunch in the museum restaurant. On leaving, I was approached by a West-Indian lady who wondered if she could ask me a couple of questions about my experience of the V&A, and being in the kind of good and helpful mood that I was, I proceeded to give her a glowing report. Her questionnaire, however, took forever to fill out!

Next stop was the Science Museum, for the Lord of the Rings-exhibition. Unfortunately, it turned out to be time slot operated; and the only time slot still available for that date was 16:30, which would make it impossible for me to get back, get changed, and go to the pictures with Anneke. There was nothing for it but to give it a miss. But it's still going to be running for a month or two yet, so who knows? I may get to see it at a later date.

I now decided I needed a Boots' and some band-aids, fast...I was going to pierce these blisters and I was going to do it now. I was convinced I knew where there were two in the vicinity, but the one I'd been in on Brampton Rd 1 1/2-2 years ago was gone, replaced by a new apartment building; and the one I'd been in on Sloane St even longer ago couldn't be found either. So I just left it and went window shopping in and around Knightsbridge instead. The Kenzo shop's still there, but I couldn't see whether the same could be said for the snooty sales lady that refused to ring up my sale several years ago (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) unless I first go across the road and get cold hard cash from the bank...which I did, and showed it to her, and then took it straight to the Pied-a-Terre next door to buy a pair of ridiculously expensive boots with, then came back and showed those to her too. The nerve of that woman! She may have been working in Sloane St, but at the end of the day, she was still only a f*cking shop assistant...
btw, I wasn't aware that the boots that I bought were ridiculously expensive. I was so upset, I couldn't do the sums in my head...Not that I'm actually very good at that sort of thing even when I'm not upset or angry...

Jigsaw, Monsoon, Hobbs all proved a disappointment this time, so it was fairly easy to stick to my resolve and not. buy. anything. although there was a pair of trousers in Benetton I quite liked...but then reminded myself that I could get those back in The Hague as well and didn't need to come all the way to London for them.

The Harrods Food Halls were a nightmare. I'd popped in for a plate of oysters, but found I couldn't move a muscle in the throng, and gave up after 5 minutes. I fought my way back out, noticing in the process that there's a Krispy Kreme there now, in front of which people were queueing up three rows deep. Having gained the pavement again, I breathed a sigh of relief, then turned around and went back to Edgware, where I finally got my band-aids.

Back at the house, shabbos had ended; and after my bit of emergency first aid and a quick meal, Anneke and I got into her new blue and silver Smart and drove off to catch the movie at the Swiss Cottage Odeon. We made it there just in time, and settled down to watch this brilliant and shocking slice of modern metropolitan life...only, we quickly discovered that it was neither brilliant nor shocking nor very thought-provoking or even a really good film. I mean, it was OK. The acting, esp. that by Anne Reid, was very good, the photography or cinematography or whatever was very good, and the first 20 minutes or so of it was good...but then it just sort of sagged. By the end, you couldn't care less what happens to any of these characters. The mother is a cool and selfish cucumber, the daughter is a freaking nutcase and the rest of the characters are just very very flat.

We got back into the car, went home, and went to bed.
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A lull! There's a lull! Which means I can continue my write-up of my London adventures. Okay -- where was I? Oh yes - I'd just bought myself some new shoes, and found out that Bush was going to come to the city the following week.

I felt slightly disappointed to hear that he wasn't going to arrive until the day after I returned home, and that I would therefore miss the demos. I haven't been on a really great demo, and for a cause I felt really strongly about, for ages -- not since the early 1980s, I don't think. Back then, we marched through Amsterdam in our hundreds of thousands in protest against the American administration wanting to station nuclear warheads in our backyards as part of Reagan's ludicrous Star Wars defense shield -- whatever happened to that idea? It must have cost billions to develop, then it was probably binned as soon as the Soviet Union broke up a couple of years later.

But here I was in Oxford St, with a tight schedule to keep and things to buy; so off I went to Tesco's to get Mum the items on her grocery list (we have been seriously deprived of all our favourite edibles since M&S finished trading in the Netherlands a year and a half ago); after which I wandered somewhat aimlessly through the department stores of John Lewis and Debenham's, popped into a bookstore and snagged a Spike calendar for 2004. Pity it's all the same pictures as the one for 2003, but there you go.

Finally, I remembered my original errand and hotfooted it to Bloomsbury. Although once in Russell Sq Gdns, I allowed myself to be distracted from it by my growling stomach. I went into the caff, and had myself a lovely fry-up done: eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and chips, with toast, washed down with copious amounts of freshly steeped Darjeeling. An hour later and I was browsing the shelves of the art shop for the picture hangers Anneke wanted. The shop assistant came and told me they weren't in stock at the moment, and I phoned Anneke to give her the news. As there were a few hours remaining before the start of shabbos, she thought she might try a few other suppliers in and around Edgware that she knew of herself...

I went into the British Museum and amused myself there for an hour or two, before becoming aware of the fact that the blisters that had been theatening to form earlier, had indeed done so. I hopped back on the tube, and made it home just before the family gathered to light the candles for shabbos.

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If my feet could talk, I'm sure they would have cursed me as I jammed them back into my boots the next day. On coming downstairs, even if it had just gone 7, I found Anneke had already dashed off to the shops to get everything in and in readiness for shabbos, which was to start very early this Friday (at 4:58pm). Her husband Bobby poured me a coffee and then left for work himself, enjoining me to a) make my own breakfast, b) enjoy myself whatever I wanted to do that day and c) by all means, not to feel I had to hurry home in time for shabbos. So I made myself some toast and another coffee, and settled down to read the morning paper.

Anneke returned still looking and feeling under the weather, and scolded me when she found I'd used the wrong knife to spread butter on my toast. "Honestly H., how long have you been coming here?"
I felt very foolish not to have remembered that the blue-handled cutlery is for meat and dairy, not the white-handled. It had been 2 years since I'd stayed with them last, but still, I should have remembered. Luckily, my transgression could be negated by sticking the knife in a heap of earth in the garden, and leaving it there overnight.

We took the dog for a long walk in the park, and when we got back, Anneke decided it wouldn't be a good idea for her to join me in my explorations of the city and besides, she had to run a few errands and make a few calls before shabbos started.

I'd read about the appeal several British athletes had made for the government to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece in time for next year's Olympics in the morning paper, so when asked where I thought of going next, I answered I thought I might stop off at the British Museum and check out the marbles one more time before some idiot in a position to actually order them sent to Athens would do so (although I very much doubt that the Parthenon frieze will ever be returned to Greece, which incidentally, I don't think it should). Also, I suddenly realised I hadn't seen the new Great Court for myself yet, and I can think of worse places to while away an autumn afternoon than in the British Museum's reading room. As that meant I would be going roughly in that direction, Anneke asked me to pick up some picture hangers for her from an art shop in Bloomsbury.

At Edgware Station though, I found that the only trains going into the city were of the Morden via Bank variety, which meant I couldn't get to Goodge St directly. By now though, I'd conceived of another idea: the best thing I could do in my present circumstances, was to get myself to the nearest Footlocker and purchase a pair of trainers to relieve my aching feet, which if I wasn't mistaken, if they weren't starting to form blisters already, would do so very soon. So I changed trains at Holborn and went shopping for shoes in Oxford St. On the tube, I'd decided I wanted Pumas this time, in either brown or tan.

I went into a JD Sports and found a pair of brown Puma lace-ups at reduced price, but the sales personnel was uninterested in helping me and I walked out the door without them. I may have had sore feet, but not sore enough to buy lace-up trainers (which I detest) without some sort of sales pitch thrown at me.
I went into two more shops before finally arriving at a Footlocker store. Five minutes later, I was the proud and oh so relieved owner of a soft pair of camouflage print Pumas with a zigzag elastic band\Velcro fastening. They're hip, they're happening, and they're mine.

(By the way, how have the mighty fallen! Up until two years ago, I would NEVER have considered adding trainers to my shoe collection. I abhorred the practice of wearing sports shoes outside of the tennis court and only owned one pair: my fencing shoes, which I would only wear in the training room and on the mat.
Sports shoes, esp. in the white and clunky lace-up variety, are ugly and smelly, and far more expensive than their usually shoddy workmanship justifies -- that was my firm belief.

I changed my mind after traipsing all over Manhattan in my fashionable boots and shoes for 2 weeks, while all my NYC friends wore trainers, or 'sneakers' as they called them, everywhere and told me I was mad not to own a pair in New York. And, suffering from sore feet then too, I caved in. I set foot inside a Footlocker for the very first time in my life, and walked out with a pair of grey striped, lace-less Nikes, which I still find are too clunky and not really all that comfortable, but which did seem to give me some street cred in that city.

I've since bought a pair of fuchsia-and-silver Diesel retro-style lace-ups, and now this latest pair of Army-look Pumas...I may become a person that wears trainers on a regular basis yet!).

Coming out of the store, I bumped into my first protester -- someone in a clown's outfit, but with a piece of tape painted to look like the American flag over his mouth. This was my first intimation that something might be brewing in the city.

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Actually, I'm glad I didn't succeed in securing a ticket to last night's Paul Weller concert in Amsterdam. I mean, obviously I'm a little sad to think that for once, I couldn't be there when he's taking the trouble to tour near me; but after a week or almost of constant activity and running around all over London, there was no way I was ever going to get up again once I'd plonked down on my comfy sofa with the cats curling up in my lap (Clio) or draping themselves around my shoulders (Leila).

Although, in a way, it's good to be home again, I must have been mad to decide to come in to work the day after returning. I always do this. I always forget that it would be nice to have an extra day off before turning up at the office all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - and jetlagged. I can't claim the latter this time, but the fact remains that I am, actually, bloody tired. It's only just gone 1pm, but I'd love to take a nap right now. Oh well...

Of course, I did almost the same thing on the way out - greedy for as much time in the Smoke as I could possibly get out of this visit, I'd booked myself on the stupid o'clock flight...forgetting that in order to catch said stupid o'clock flight, I had to get up at bloody ridiculous o'clock and make my own arrangements as to how to get to the airport. Holland's a lovely country, but unfortunately it takes about 50 years to catch up to rest of the world, and a 24/7 train service is still a thing of the dim and distant future.

Though I don't know where I'd be without easyJet. I remember in the 80s and early 90s, before the arrival of the budget airlines, getting to London would take all day (or night, as we usually took the night ferry); getting there in a hurry would take a fortune. I also like that you can book your ticket online and you don't have to worry about picking it up or bringing it to the check-in counter with you, because I'm always losing it -- and in more ways than one, too. Believe me, you do not want to be around me when I can't find my ticket or passport -- especially when you're trying to be helpful and make the mistake of suggesting places where I may want to look!

I never understood the reason why we switched to CET in the summer of 1977; I'd been perfectly happy with our GMT clock before that date - but I do like arriving before I left on the short hop over to England. I'm not a great fan of flying for the same reason that I'm no great fan of sailing either (other than recreational): I don't like to be in an enclosed space. This has nothing to do with being claustrophobic, which I'm not; it's just that I don't like to be restricted in my movements. I always want to go places, explore -- when you're in a plane, or on a boat, your choices are fairly limited. I'll never book myself onto a cruise liner; I'd be bored out of my skull in hours. But I'll take the plane over any other mode of transport to get me to Blighty. It's so little fuss, and you'll land before you're well and truly airborne.

There is one aspect of air travel I enjoy though: I love the roar of the engines and being pushed back in your seat when the plane prepares for take-off. Thundering down the runway, I feel excited and alive, and I wish the moment could last a bit longer...but inevitably, the wheels leave the tarmac, and the boredom sets in.

I'd arranged to stay with friends in Edgware (which is part of Greater London), so Luton was the best choice of airport to fly into, and from there catch the train to Sutton, getting off at Mill Hill. Usually, my friend's waiting for me to pick me up in the car, but this time, for the first time in the seven years we've known each other, she wasn't there. It turned out that, having picked up a nasty bug while on a family visit in Israel the previous week, she was too sick to venture out of doors; and besides, her daughter had borrowed the car to get to work. Luckily, there's a very good bus service between Mill Hill Broadway and Edgware Station, and for an added advantage: I always travel light.

I made good time and arrived on the family's doorstep well before they were expecting me, and over tea and biscuits, commisserated with my friend over the fact that she had to cry off most of the things we had been looking forward to doing because of her being ill, and was there when a panicked call came through: one of the artworks on display had fallen down and had been heavily damaged in the fall. The gallery assumed full responsibility and were willing to pay to have the work replaced at their cost, but how was Anneke going to get the photograph redone, mounted, and back on the wall that same day or the following feeling the way that she did? Gamiila unto the breach!

Within half an hour, I found myself en route to Farringdon, and because I'd just missed the bus and the deadline was set for 'lunchtime', I walked the 2 1/2 miles back to Mill Hill in my high-heeled denim boots, which started to pinch something awful about halfway to the station. I may be able to wear them with no problems in the flat Dutch countryside, traversing hilly country at a trot in them is quite another matter!

Got to Farringdon and the gallery in Cowcross St, dropped off the picture and detailed instructions, and after a short meeting decided from there to walk to Blackfriars and see what was going on in Tate Modern. Being the architectural historian that I still am, I concentrated on the installation art by Olafur Eliasson in the Turbine Hall, then had lunch in the Member Room and afterwards had a nice stroll along the Embankment.

By this time, my feet were killing me, and I was mentally berating myself for travelling so light this time that I'd omitted to bring my trainers - what could I have been thinking?

Still, the afternoon was young, and a poster on the Underground had informed me of an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art being held at the Royal Academy, so I wasted no time in getting there.
The exhibition was subtitled 'The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection' and if that means that all the works in those rooms were his personal property, then all I can say is: ALW is one lucky blighter. I wandered from one beautiful painting to the next for hours. They were absolutely marvelous, the lesser-known pieces as well as the more famous images; and all well worth the 9 quid entrance fee (Anneke's membership unfortunately having expired earlier this year).

It was dark when I came back out, and there was nothing else for me to do but to hobble painfully back to Oxford Circus and onto the tube, the train and the bus to get me back home in time for dinner and the meet&greet with the rest of the family.



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December 2012

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